The Vedas are learned during the years of student-bachelorhood. Then the "theory" taught has to be put into practice; in other words the rites prescribed in the Vedas must be performed. For this purpose a man has to take a helpmate after he has completed his brahmacaryasrama.
This helpmate is a "property" that can never be separated from him. She is not meant not only to be a cook for him, not only one to give sensual gratification. She is called "dharma-patni" and also "yajna-patni". She has to be with her husband in the pursuit of dharma and has also to be a source of encouragement in it. As a dharma patni, she has to be by his side during the performance of sacrifices; she must also play a supportive role in all those rituals that have the purpose of making the divine powers favourable to mankind.
It must be noted that a wife creates well-being for the world even as she does the work of cooking or as a source of sensual gratification for her husband. I will tell you how. It is not that she cooks for the husband alone. She has to provide food every day to the guests, to the sick and to the birds and beasts and other creatures. This is how she serves the purpose of "atithyam" and "vaisvadevam". The children born to here are not to be taken as the product of pleasure she affords her husband. She gives birth to them to perpetuate the Vedic dharma. Yes, even the raising of sons is intended for the dharmic life of the future. No other religion has before it such a goal for the marriage samskara.
In our religion the man-wife relationship is not concerned with the mundane alone. It serves the Atman as well as the good of mankind. In other religions too marriages are conducted, say, in a church with God as witness. But ideal of marriage is not as lofty as ours. The purpose of marriage in our religion is to purify the husband further and to impact the wife fullness as his devoted and self-effacing companion. There is no such high purpose in the marriage of other religion. In other countries the man-woman relationship is akin to a family or social contract.
Here it is an Atman connection. But this very connection is a means of disconnection also - of freeing the Atman, the self, from the bondage of worldly existence. There is no room for divorce in it. Even to think of it is sinful.
[To sum up and further explain] the three objectives of a samskara of so elevated a character as marriage. The first is to unite a man with a helpmate after he has completed the study of Vedas. This helpmate is expected not only to run his household but assist him in the practice of the Vedic dharma.
The second is to bring forth into this world children of noble outlook and character who are to be heirs to the great Vedic tradition, citizens of the future who will be the source of happiness in this world.
The third is to create a means for women to be freed from worldly existence. A man who is not yet fully mature inwardly is assisted in his karma by his wife. By doing so, by being totally devoted to her husband, she achieves maturity to a degree greater than he does.
The fourth objective is the subordination of sensual gratification to the other three. We have forgotten the first three important objectives. All that remains is the fourth, the enjoyment of carnal pleasure. If people take my advice in respect of the noble ideals of marriage as taught in the sastras a way will open out to them for their inner advancement. May Candramaulisvara bless them.
Source: Hindu Dharma - Universal way of Life (English version of selected discourses by Maha Periva)